Seattle’s food prices skyrocketed in 1907. Onions, for instance, had cost 10 cents/pound in 1906, but when 1907 rolled around, the price jumped tenfold. One pound of onions? $1.00.
No one blamed the farmers. The farmers were victims, too. When they drove into Seattle to sell their produce, they had to sell through middlemen, and farmers barely received enough of the profits to scrape by. Some farmers even lost money. The price gouging was a middlemen invention that only helped the middlemen, and in 1907, Seattle grew tired of it.
Enter Pike Place Market.
The city passed an ordinance that let farmers skip the middlemen and sell directly to people like you and me. The city also designated an area as a public market, laying down planks so farmers would have a place to park their wagons and carts. On August 17, 1907, Pike Place Market opened for the first time. Only about ten farmers showed up the first day, but they all sold out quickly. Faster, in fact, than they had thought possible. One farmer said later:
“The next time I come to this place, I’m going to get police protection or put my wagon on stilts. I got rid of everything, all right, but I didn’t really sell a turnip. You see, those society women stormed my wagon, crawled over the wheels and crowded me off to respectable distance, say 20 feet (6.1 m). When I got back the wagon was swept as clean as a good housewife’s parlor, and there in a bushel basket was a quart of silver.”
Soul of the City, Shorett & Morgan, 2007, p. 14
Seventy farmers showed up the next week. Then covered stalls were added, and full-time employees were hired, and in a few years, Pike Place Market became the sight we recognize today. Now, it is one of oldest continually operated farmers markets in United States.
We dug up some pictures of Pike Place Market through the years. How much of a change can you notice from those early beginnings to its present as an international tourist destination?
Main photo from Seattle Municipal Archives